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Archive for the ‘scent work / nosework’ Category

Drawing not completely to scale, but close-ish

This social distancing thing is hard to take, for me anyway. I like to be around people. And one of the reasons I do dog sports, besides the joy of working with my dog, is to be around other people who also like to work with their dogs.

But now in this age of the COVID-19 virus, all the Scent Work trials I was entered in have been cancelled, and no one really wants (understandably) to get together to practice. I get that. But both Carlin and I can get a bit stir crazy if we don’t work on something. So today, I designed my second Detective search for us to try out.

The total area was just under 4000 square feet. Half of the search area was inside our “barn” (It used to be a barn 35 years ago), and the other half, outside in a carport, plus the lawn area just east of the building. I set out 9 hides (I didn’t write down which odors went where, but I used all 4 odors):

  1. (Main room) Under the top in the corner of one of three big folding tables shoved together. The tables had about 6 chairs around them, none of which obstructed the hide.
  2. (Main room) On the metal leg of an etching press, about 30″ above the ground. The space between the press and the wall was just wide enough for the dog to get into.
  3. (Bathroom) Behind the latch of a glass shower door, about 36″ high.
  4. (Garage) Under the foot pedal of the snow plow.
  5. (Garage) Above the top hinge of a door.
  6. (Carport) Under the pedestal of a column that holds up the carport roof.
  7. (Side yard) Under and behind a metal power box, maybe 40″ high.
  8. (Side yard) In a sand-filled Buried tub, next to a blank sand-filled tub.
  9. (Side yard) Pushed into the grass, so the top of the scent vessel was just under the level of the dirt.

The doors between the kitchen and garage, the hallway and bathroom, and the hallway and carport were left open during the search, as was that chain link gate. The front door and garage door were closed. All the windows were closed. The furnace was not turned on inside. Outside it was sunny, with no discernible breeze, and about 60 degrees F. I did not set out any distractions.

I use the barn pretty often to practice various things, so I really tried to find locations I haven’t used before. For example, there is a row of drawers and cabinets that line the hallway, but I left that area blank this time, as well as the kitchen, which has lots of shelves and cabinets that we’ve used a lot. I’m not sure why I got the idea to use Buried tubs, but we’ve been practicing Buried searches with sand, so I thought mixing it up this way would be interesting.

One thing that I’m noticing now that I didn’t do–I didn’t really create areas of converging odor, except for maybe kind of the two hides in the main room, which were almost the same height. I need to make sure to do that next time. I also didn’t do any threshold hides, which I should do, as Carlin often blasts right past those.

So, we started by coming into the front door (top of the diagram). Carlin took a pretty decisive right into the kitchen (we’ve done a lot of hides in there). He didn’t find anything right off the bat, so he took me into the garage. Hide #4 was tricky–he kept sniffing the opposite corner (to the right of the closed garage door). It looked like he was going to get stuck there, so I called him toward the center of the room, around the back of the snowplow, and he caught the odor. It took him a bit to decide that the odor was inside the snowplow and not underneath, but finally he called it.

Next he found #5. Back in that corner, there is a small furnace and a hot water heater. He spent quite a bit of time searching behind and around those, and then went to the opposite corner to sniff the shelves there. Then he came back along the wall toward the hide, lifted his head, and bam, there it was. He indicated, and when I asked him “Where?”, he lifted his whole body up toward the hinge. Good boy.

We went back out to the kitchen, where he took himself first on a clockwise, then a counter-clockwise circuit of the room. Deciding that nothing was there, he trotted down the hallway toward the bathroom, where he quickly found #3. Being near the back door, he wanted to go out that way, but I called him back in to search the main room. He searched the chairs and the table, and found #1 pretty quickly. (Those tables and chairs aren’t usually in that room, so that changed the picture quite a bit from usual.) #2 on the press was easy–in the past, we’ve hidden lots of hides on the press.

Then I had him search the cabinets in the hallway, which I think he did just to humor me. They were blank, and I think he knew that already.

So it was out the door to the carport, which had a big pickup truck parked in it. He did a wide sweep around the outside of the carport, sniffing the out-of-bounds grass and concrete. While out there, he did a head-snap, turned his body, and then found #6. He then took himself on a circle around the truck, decided nothing else was in the carport, and headed out and through the chain link gate.

We’ve used that yard many times before–there are a number of places I’ve hidden odor, and he checked all of those. But all those spots were blank. At that point, he notice the Buried boxes. That stopped him in his tracks for just a microsecond–we don’t normally have Buried boxes out while practicing Exterior hides. I think he was curious, so he went to check them out, and dang, if there wasn’t odor in #8.

#9 was just about 6 feet from #8, and also in a spot we haven’t used before. But he found that one almost immediately after finding #8.

The last one, #7, took him quite a while. I’m not sure why. He was sort of avoiding sniffing along that wall for some reason, so after a minute or so, I directed him down the wall. Once he went down the wall, passing #7, he turned himself around and searched back along the wall in the opposite direction. He caught something underneath the various power boxes (there are a several on that wall), so he took a moment to search each box. Finally he found it and sat.

I was ready to quit myself, but if this had been a real Detective search, we would have no guarantee that we had found all the hides. A judge can set ten hides, so there could have been one more. So, I told him to “find another one”. He casted around a bit, and then went back inside to #3 again and sat. Returning to a known hide is often his signal that he’s done. And he was right!

Carlin did some things today that I haven’t noticed him doing on his own consistently before.

  • In two cases, in the kitchen and along the outside wall with #7, he took himself in one direction and then in the other, without my asking him to.
  • He didn’t give up after four or five hides and tell me he was done. He kept going until he was satisfied he’d found everything.
  • He didn’t try to pick up nearly as many hides. If he had his way, he’d retrieve the hides and bring them to me (being a gun dog and having had so training in retrieving). He still tried to pick up a couple, but happily sat when I asked him to, before he got that far. I do try to place my hides and use vessels that make it hard to retrieve them. I keep hoping that this will interrupt that self-rewarding behavior and break the habit. Maybe it’s working.

It seems like it’s taken me much longer to describe all this than it took Carlin to find the hides. I really tried to pay attention to what he was doing, and less to whether he’d found hides or not. That’s a tough one for me. Hopefully writing this out will teach me something, even if I don’t quite know what it is just yet.

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Carlin became eligible to run AKC’s Scent Work Detective class when he earned his first Scent Work Master title last September. But the one time I had a chance to run it (at that same trial in September), I didn’t realize that his third Interiors Master pass qualified him to run Detective. So we missed that opportunity.

But honestly, that’s OK. Neither Carlin nor I are ready for it. For Detective, the search area is supposed to include both interior and exterior spaces totaling 2000-5000 square feet, there are 5 to 10 hides, and the team gets 7 to 15 minutes. We’ve never done anything that difficult.

So today, after the snow let up, I decided to give it a go.

The search area included four rooms inside our out-building (called “the barn”), plus the gate, fence, and driveway in front of the barn. The area probably totaled a bit less than 2000 square feet, but was challenging nonetheless.

Russ set the hides. We found six and I called Finish.

It turns out I missed three. The hardest one was set in a heat vent in the eight-foot ceiling. We also missed two others — one on a tall counter in a hallway, hidden in the folds of a blanket, and the other inside a paper towel roll hanging above the bathroom sink. Russ told me where they were, and when I took Carlin back to those areas, he found them.

Challenging. And lots of fun. And a learning experience:

  • Carlin is not at the point where he can clear a space with one pass. This may be because he moves really fast and not very methodically. So right now, I need to make sure he moves through a space in more than one direction. If we go up the hallway, we need to also come down the hallway; if we go around a room clockwise, we need to go through it again counter-clockwise. If we’d done that, we’d have found more of the hides. But this method is not optimal, as it takes up time. So I will need to investigate learning how to deal with this.
  • I need to be able to keep track of how many hides we’ve found. By the sixth hide, I’d forgotten how many we’d found, and thought we’d found seven. There have to be at least seven hides, so if I hadn’t forgotten, I’d have realized that we’d missed at least one and gone looking for it.
  • I didn’t call Alert on the same hide more than once. I’ve made that mistake before, so maybe I’m learning a few things.
  • Carlin is getting better at food distractions. After a quick sniff, he ignored the macaroni and cheese. This is a very good thing.
  • This is a really different experience than searching several small areas and calling Finish on each of the areas before you can move to the next, as in Interiors Master. In Interiors Master, you can just do a space and be done with it (except you do have to remember your total number of finds). In Detective, the search areas is just one big space. The team can move between rooms or from inside to outside (and back) at will. It means that you can go back into a space if you need to, but it also means that there is more to remember for both the handler and the dog.

But gosh, it’s fun. Carlin always whines in excitement when he has his harness on and is waiting for me to say “Find it!” And I love watching him do what he does so well, even when we miss a few.

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I admit it. I’m like my dogs. I work for rewards.

Now, my rewards are different than my dogs’. Salmon jerky is all right, but it’s not enough to get me to go out and do one more practice, to set up another blind retrieve, to study Rally signs, or to travel to the spaniel club practice or scent work class.

I admit it’s shallow, but I like recognition. And I’ll work for it. Fortunately, my dogs will work for salmon jerky and dried liver, and they’ll mostly go along with whatever I need them to do to earn it. At some point, though, I usually forget the recognition thing, and mostly just do the work because it has become fun in and of itself.

But, there are those days. You know. Those days when the work just doesn’t sound that fun. When it’s too cold, or too hot, or the drive is too long, or you have to practice alone, or the equipment is just too hard to get out yet again. Those days, it’s the possibility of recognition that will get me out of my chair and working again.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin have all given me the opportunity for a lot of work, a lot of fun, and more than my share of rewards.

Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin just earned the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) Quintessential Versatility Award. A beautiful glass medallion is given by the club to all dogs who earn this award.

An IWS is awarded this by earning titles in 5 different AKC sports. For Carlin, these were:

As you can see, we’ve been working on this award for a while now. And I am thrilled that Carlin also has been recognized for his work ethic, talent, and enthusiasm.

And it gets better!

Carlin, to my total shock and surprise, won the club’s Top IWS Scent Work 2018 trophy. The trophy is given to the IWS with the most points earned in AKC Scent Work for the previous calendar year. The IWSCA determines the points, but basically, the dog earns a certain number of points for each Scent Work title earned, with more advanced titles earning more points.

I knew Carlin had done well. I knew he’d be right up there. But I had been convinced that another dog had earned the award. So when I opened the package sent by the IWSCA Awards Committee, I about fell down, huge smile on my face. Totally blown away, was the only way I could describe it. I’d spent some energy trying to just feel good for the winner and not let my disappointment that Carlin hadn’t won get me down.

But then we won! We won!

I still can’t quite believe it. It still makes me smile. But you know, Carlin doesn’t care. He just loves the work. And the fact that he loves it and begs me to do it with him–that’s often all the recognition I need.

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A bunch of us were standing around on Sunday late afternoon, waiting for results to be posted from that day’s Scent Work trials, talking. A couple of the judges were in the group, and some handlers got to talking about the NQs we’d had that weekend. When we got to my NQs, I mentioned that Carlin was my very first scent work dog. One of the judges got a surprised look on her face, and told me that I was doing really well then. My NQs, apparently, are not uncommon newbie handler mistakes.

Well, that made me feel better. Looking back over the NQs, I had been feeling pretty darn bad. After being told about the hides I missed and the too-early calls I’d made, I was thinking, “How COULD I have missed that? If only I’d done X or thought of Y, we’d have passed.”

So, I’ve made those mistakes. Now I need to start learning from them.

Not searching the whole search area

In both Container Master searches, I called an Alert too soon. This despite the fact that, in our second search, the judge had even told us to take our time to be sure before calling Alert.

I’m not sure what I’d have done differently in the first Container search. Carlin stuck his nose down into the center of the 4-flap box. He didn’t paw it and he didn’t sit, which are his usual indications in Containers, but it looked to me like he was indicating. Turns out, that box had food in it. In his second search, he was very interested in a container and pawed it, but didn’t sit. I called it, and I was wrong.

In the last Interiors Master search, Carlin and I missed the second hide in the bathroom. It was such a small room, and I think I must have assumed that there could be only one hide in there. We left the bathroom without going into the corner opposite from the first hide. I noticed the judge staring at me with a very blank face, so I knew there was something I needed to do. I got really flustered. So I blurted out “Finish”. And got the dreaded, “No, I’m sorry.”

Irish Water Spaniel searching a bathroom in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy during a search in Containers, consider that it might be better to make sure Carlin gets a sniff at all the containers before I call any. That way I can see what his indication is that day, and take less risk at calling something iffy.
  • In Interiors (and probably Exteriors), make sure he gets into all the corners of the search area before I call “Finish”.
  • As a training issue, I think I need to work on a clearer indication.

Losing my place

None of the dogs passed the first Buried Excellent search. The hides were buried in very dry, clay soil under an inch or so of bark chips. Carlin worked hard, but he just couldn’t find them. So, other than needing to keep practicing, I don’t really see any lesson there.

The next day’s Buried search is an entirely different story. Those hides were placed in wet, soppy grass, and many dogs, including Carlin, found all three. So why did we NQ that one? Because I got lost.

I had already called Alert on a couple of the hides twice each. That’s a fault, but it’s not an NQ. The third hide was in line with one of the other hides, and I thought it was one of the ones we’d found already. Not wanting to embarrass myself (I think that’s what I was worried about), I just told Carlin, “Yes, you found that one.” and went off to keep looking. We eventually ran out of time, so we NQd.

Irish Water Spaniel doing a Buried Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, don’t be afraid to call Alert on a hide more than once. It’s better to get a bunch of faults than to NQ.
  • As a training issue, I need to figure out a way to orient myself in space where there is nothing nearby to orient on. This is a problem for me in life generally. I usually need to use directions multiple times to get to the same place, and I cannot visualize how to set a table without a picture to look at first (Russ has drawn me a picture of a table setting that I keep in the dish cabinet.)

Accepting disruptive indications

Carlin has always been an enthusiastic hunter. Plus, he’s a retriever. Which means that his first inclination is to locate the scent vessel, grab it up, and bring it to me.

I have successfully stepped in and stopped him before he’s had a chance to actually bring me a scent vessel. But I haven’t always been able to stop him from grabbing it or knocking it out its hiding place. He drops it when I ask him to, and he’s never damaged one, but at the levels we’re working, that’s not good enough.

On Saturday’s Exterior Excellent search, he’d have qualified except that he was NQd for pawing one of the hides out its place under a pile of bark chips at the edge of a children’s slide.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an Exteriors Excellent search in AKC Scent Work

And in his second Interiors Master search, in trying to grab the scent vessel from under the lip of a garbage can, he knocked the whole thing over. That’s not good, and under some judges in some circumstances, it could get us NQd. While timing for other searches, I watched several dogs get NQd for knocking scent vessels out of place. I don’t want that to happen to us.

So, lessons:

  • As a trial strategy, remember to call Alert quickly and then “Sit!”. That should at least somewhat disrupt disruption before it can happen (much).
  • As a training issue, somehow or another, I have to teach a point-at or light-touch indication. I’d like to eliminate the pawing and the grabbing. I want to see a recognizable change of behavior that tells me he’s found the hide, tells me where it is, and doesn’t actually touch it with his mouth or paw. But my real problem is that I have no idea how to do this. It means undoing what he’s been doing for a year, and teaching us both to do something else.

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When I was talking to my fellow Scent Work friends about my entering Sherwood Dog Training Club’s April 6-7 scent work trials, my line was, “We are not ready. But we’ll learn a lot.”

I think what I meant at the time was: Carlin is not ready.

But that was mostly not true. This is what is true: Carlin was ready. His handler wasn’t.

But before we get into the weeds of the lot I have to learn, let’s start with our couple of really nice successes.

First master search

Carlin was the only dog to pass Saturday’s Interior Master search. Three rooms, two hides (one room was blank, with no hide). The first two rooms had allowed times of 2.5 minutes each, and the third room had an allowed time of 1.5 minutes. We took a total of 5:50:33 minutes, which means I used up all but 9.67 seconds of our allowed time. Looking at that tiny leeway now makes me breathe out in relief. But at the time, I was just so thrilled.

The two big rooms were crowded with unused school furniture: desks, cabinets, filing cabinets, shelves, chairs, and stacked boxes of books. Basically, there were only these narrow paths that snaked among all the stuff. I had the option to run Carlin off-leash in these rooms, and I took it. There was no way I could handle a leash if he decided to run from one corner of the room to another corner by going underneath the furniture.

Irish Water Spaniel doing an AKC Scent Work Interior Master search

Search site for Interior Master. This photo shows about 1/3 of the space.

The first hide was in one of the large rooms. After very thoroughly going into every corner and sniffing around, under, and on top of every piece of furniture, Carlin found the one hide, in a filing cabinet drawer.

The second room was a big-ish bathroom. I made Carlin search the whole thing thoroughly, and we decided that there was no hide in there, and called Finish. Fortunately, we were right.

The third room was the other large room, which was filled with stuff very much like the first one. I knew there could be one or two hides in there. And honestly, at this point, I don’t remember exactly what happened. But I called it after he found one hide and then searched for more and came up empty. So we were done with our very first try at Master with a 1st place pass.

Last Exteriors Excellent search

Our other success was Carlin’s third Q in Exteriors Excellent. The scene was the front of a mobile home, and its porch, front garden with shrubs, and lawn with pergola and large toys strewn about. We were allowed 2.5 minutes, but Carlin took only 1:08:54 to find all three hides: one under a porch railing, one inside a little yellow toy truck, and another stuck to a large climbing toy under the pergola.

Irish Water Spaniel doing AKC Scent Work Exteriors Excellent search

Search site for Exteriors Excellent. This photo shows about 1/2 of the search area.

As luck would have it, my neighbor has a mobile home set up very much like the search site, and he allowed Carlin and me to practice hides very much like the ones the judge set up at the trial. And this pass made me particularly happy because it finished his Scent Work Exteriors Excellent title with a very nice 1st place.

The Learning Opportunities (aka Not Qualified)

I’ll cover these in the next blog post. If I go search by search, that post will be much longer than this one.

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“Search machine” sounds kind of mechanistic, but actually, it was a compliment. That’s what one of the judges at this weekend’s scent work trial called Carlin. Even when he doesn’t succeed in finding the hidden scent, he still works hard and methodically to find it.

Now that we’ve moved up to the Excellent level in AKC Scent Work, the searches are, of course, harder. So, while I was a little disappointed, I wasn’t surprised when Carlin didn’t pass every search at this weekend’s trials.

Least surprising of the failures were the Excellent Buried searches. The three hidden odors (cotton with 2 drops of essential oil, placed inside of a vessel of some sort) are buried 6″ underground, along with five blank (empty) vessels. In these trials, the eight vessels were buried in heavy clay soil.

None of the dogs found more than two of the buried odors. Carlin, along with many of the other dogs, alerted on the blank vessels. He searched hard, but I’m not sure he knows exactly what he’s supposed to be searching for. Maybe the soil changes the scent somehow so he doesn’t recognize it. Maybe he’s alerting on the scent of disturbed earth rather than on the target odor.

So, more training. More practice.

He did much better at Interior and Exterior searches. This weekend he passed (each with first places) two Interior Excellent searches. With those passes, he earned his Scent Work Interior Excellent title. He also passed (with a 1st and a Q) two Exterior Excellent searches. He also had one each NQ.

Irish Water Spaniel IWS with AKC Scent Work ribbons

I’d like to say more about each search, but honestly, almost as soon as I get out of a search in a trial, I almost instantly forget it. I remember hides 3.5 feet up on the back of a drainpipe, under a picnic table, and hanging from a downspout chain. Another one was hidden in a piece of PVC pipe, under the lip of a planter, underneath another planter, and another under a layer of landscaping fabric (we missed that one). Others were under chairs seats.

For Interiors, one was in a fire extinguisher cabinet with next to the start line. Two more were under chairs, and one was set into the frame around a fireplace. Another was under a cushion of a rocking chair, under a desk, and on the inside of a toilet stall door. There were more, but I don’t remember them.

So now Carlin qualifies to run Master searches in Containers and Interiors. I don’t think we’re ready. But we’re going to try it anyway in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, running these Master searches will reveal more about what we don’t know.

Humbling and enlightening. And a touch scary.

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I’ve been working with Carlin to do Excellent searches in preparation for the upcoming local AKC Scent Work trials. He’s doing well in Interiors, Exteriors, and Containers, but Buried…? It depends.

When we practice Buried alone in my front yard, he’s quick and accurate about 80% of the time. That means, he usually identifies where odor has been buried in the dirt. We’ve done it on grass and on the neighbor’s patches of dirt.

But in practices not in our front yard or where other dogs have been before him, he can get very distracted. He’ll search, but only after giving the search area a thorough once or twice over, identifying which dogs have been there before him and when (and possibly other information as well).

Of course, that behavior is not useful when a team only has a couple of minutes to identify 3 hides buried 6″ underground. So, I’ve been trying to think of ways to get him on task right away.

I can’t tell him not sniff—that’s the whole point of this game. He’s supposed to sniff.

It seems to me that doing all his initial doggy intelligence must be highly self-rewarding, so I decided to try finding some reward that would be more valuable to Carlin than dog-scent sniffing. Some folks have recommended mackerel brownies, smoked tripe pieces, and other really stinky treats. And I bet all of those would be great. But I didn’t yet have any of them on hand in time for this afternoon’s group practice.

So I got out some beef heart, cut it into 1/2″ pieces, dusted it with garlic powder, cooked it all quickly in the microwave, put the pieces into a small plastic bag, and headed out to practice.

cooked beef heart pieces

When it was Carlin’s turn to try Buried, I let him smell the treats again (although I’m sure he already knew they were there). But I didn’t want to put them in my jeans pocket. They were still too juicy. So, I put the plastic bag in my pocket, figuring it would be just as easy to grab a few treats out of the bag in my pocket as it would to just get them out of the pocket.

Once on the course, Carlin did a little intelligence gathering. But then he happened (I think by accident) upon one of the hides. He pawed it very gently, then looked at me and sat. I said “Alert” and reached into the bag for several pieces of beef heart. I had intended to give him about 10 small pieces as an extra-special reward for doing his job. But as I pulled my hand out, the whole bag came along with it and spilled half its bounty of beef heart treats on the ground right on top of the hide. When I leaned over to pick some of them up, even more fell out.

Beef heart raining from heaven! Jackpot! Carlin could hardly believe his luck. And he didn’t want to leave that spot. Several times, he stood up, pawed the spot, and looked at me. I’m supposed to get a shower of beef heart for this, right?

Finally, I got him to move so he could “find another one”. A light bulb glowed over Carlin’s head—it seemed that the nearby bush wasn’t that interesting after all. He searched every inch of that space pretty thoroughly, and found the other hide (we did only 2 for the practice search). I gave him what was left in the bag, told him he was a very, very good boy, and the two of us ran whooping and jumping back to the car.

Dropping treats in a search area is a Not a Good Thing to do. I’m sure the dogs that went after us were given a major hint as to the location of that hide. But fortunately, my training group thought my fumbling and Carlin’s delight was funny. No more plastic bags for me. But hopefully, lots of beef heart for Carlin.

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In my dog support career, I’ve built a lot of tools that either didn’t exist to my specifications, or just didn’t exist at all. Some examples are making a holding blind out of camo cloth and fence posts (for retriever work), building jumps out of PVC pipe and long jumps out of white gutters (for obedience and rally), and gutting, drying, and filling dead birds with expandable foam so I could re-use them longer (for retriever and spaniel work).

Now I’m doing scent work, and it comes with a whole new set of stuff I need but can’t find.

It started out with needing protective screens to cover the containers used to hold dirt in Novice and Advanced Buried. They allow the dog to sniff the odor, but not disturb the dirt or topple the containers. My instructor had a set, so my husband mostly copied hers. They’re made of 2 x 6″ fir, metal screen, staples, and gorilla tape.

But now Carlin and I have graduated to Excellent Buried. I’ve been practicing Excellent searches using plastic scent vessels. I wrote about various troubles and eventual success of the plastic vessels I built and the brace-and-bit I use to drill holes before.

But judges can use metal scent vessels, too, so I wanted something metal to practice with. I saw a video on Youtube of a group’s using pill fobs and chain for their metal scent vessels, but they had to use a soil probe tool to dig the holes — that’s fine in nice moist soil, but if you’re dealing with frozen, very dry, or hard packed clay soil, those look like way too much work. A drill should much easier.

The problem is that my bit is too small for those pill fobs (the ones I can find are .63″ to .70″ in diameter), so I wanted to find something skinnier to use as vessels.

Here’s what I ended up with:

They are made of aluminum whistles, which came with the keyring and already have a whistle hole in them (from Amazon) and 30 lb. leader rig (from the local fishing store).

The four that I am using to hold the scented Q-tips also have a plug that I can screw in and out (threaded pipe plugs). The scent vessels also have two additional small holes drilled into them, and an initial scribed in so I know which odor goes into which vessel.

scent vessel on top, blank vessel on the bottom

It’s been raining really hard for the last 24 hours, so I haven’t tried these out yet. If they fail, I am guessing it will be the fishing leader that goes. But 30 lb. is reasonably heavy duty, and the drill bit creates a nice clean hole, so I’m not worried. And if I have to, it’ll be easy to change out the leader with a heavier one.

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A couple of weekends ago, my friend and I tried burying scent vessels in the dirt so that we could practice Scent Work Buried Excellent with our dogs. (The scent vessels contain the swabs that have the odor on them — the vessels prevent the odor from coming into direct contact with the dirt.)

It mostly went OK until we tried to pull the scent vessels (1″x2″ test tubes) out of the ground. I had tied fishing line onto the vessels and thought I could use that to pull the vessels out of their holes. I figured, if the fishing line could withstand a fighting fish, it ought to withstand my pulling a small test tube out of the ground.

But no. The fishing line broke, and when it broke, we lost visual contact with where exactly the vessel was buried. (Losing visual contact is actually the point, or at least will be. During a scent work trial, neither the dog nor the handler is supposed to be able to see where the vessels are buried.) We’d make a mental map of our search area, so we knew sort of where the vessel should be, but we ended up having to dig around a bit to find it. Definitely not a leave-no-trace situation.

Part of the reason why the fishing line broke was that we hadn’t actually dug holes first and then dropped the vessels in the holes. We dug very short holes, but mostly we had to push the vessels the rest of the way into the ground, and they got stuck in the mud.

Thus, no holes + fishing line = stuck vessels. Not good.

So I redesigned my vessels and got myself an auger to dig holes that are just a bit bigger than the vessels.

augur

I drilled a small hole in the bottom of each test tube. (There was already a hole in the tube’s lid.) I then strung mason’s twine through the tubes, making a big double stopper knot at the bottom to keep the test but on. I also added a bead between two regular stopper knots about 3/4″ above the screw-off lid of the tube. That way, I can add a swab to the tube without losing the lid.

Then I put in a small knot at 6″ to help me be sure the swab inside the tube is 6″ deep. (When we get that far. Carlin isn’t able to detect scent buried that deep yet, but he’ll get there. I hope he gets there soon enough for the March trial, where he’ll be entered in Buried Excellent. The hides at that level are 6″ deep.)

I added another stopper knot at 8″ (that’s how deep the hides are in the Master level). Lastly, I strung a bead and another stopper knot that should help me grip the line so I can pull it out when the tube is at its deepest.

I used blaze orange twine with a little tape flag because I can see it when it’s peeking above the ground. At least for a while, I need to be able to see where the hides are so I can reward Carlin when he’s right. I also used orange because, theoretically anyway, dogs don’t really see orange as orange — they see it more like a gray. (Or at least, that is what I was taught by multiple retriever and spaniel trainers who all use orange dummies when they don’t want their dogs to see the retrieve object.)

Yesterday, I tested it all, putting the tubes out at 4″ deep. I used the augur to create 4 holes in a gravel-dirt mix area, put the vessels with swabs in them in the ground, and lightly filled up the holes with about a couple of inches of twine sticking out. I left them there for about 30 minutes to give the odor a chance to start moving.

Then Carlin and I came back to the area and searched. He had an easy time finding the ones that were not near any objects, and a bit harder time finding the ones that were near above-ground objects (logs, mostly). But eventually he found them all.

And even better, when I went back to pull the vessels out of the ground, they all came right up, with almost no effort. I replace the little bit of displaced dirt, and when I left the area, it looked like nothing had happened there at all.

Thus, augured holes + mason’s twine + good dog = success. Good!

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Buried is hard. Or at least, it seems to me that most dogs that try AKC Scent Work have a harder time with Buried than with Containers, Exteriors, or Interiors.

That has been true for Carlin, too. And now it gets harder.

Buried Novice and Buried Advanced has dogs searching for odor in boxes of dirt. Buried Excellent has three hides buried 6 inches deep in the actual ground. It’s a big leap — the dog has no familiar objects that he knows to search. I imagine that it just looks like nothing, or maybe it looks like Exteriors, where the dog searches above ground for hidden odor.

For Buried Excellent, the dog has to learn to search for odor underground. I’m hoping Carlin will be ready for Buried Excellent at my local Boise trials in March, so it’s time to get going with training. And today I finally got it together to bury some hides in the ground for Carlin.

Today, the three swabs are scented with Birch, Anise, or Clove — all odors Carlin is familiar with. I’ve placed each swab inside a plastic tube that has a lid with a hole in them. I’ve buried the tubes about 1/2 inch below the surface of the ground in the grass.

As you can see by the video, Carlin is indeed confused about what kind of search this is. I am using a different cue (“search dirt”) rather than my usual one (“find it”). But seeing no containers of dirt, I think he’s assuming this must be an Exterior search. But finally, he catches a whiff of odor at ground level.

He eventually found all three hides, but I helped him quite a lot: by restraining him so he wouldn’t leave the search area, by calling him over to where the hides were located, and by standing next to them.

Eventually, I won’t help him at all, and then that’s the case, then I’ll bury the hides deeper.

 

 

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Sunday December 2nd found Carlin and me at the second day of the Upper Snake River Valley Dog Training Club‘s (USRVDTC) December scent work trials. Because Carlin had passed his third Interiors Advanced search the day before, we moved up to Interiors Excellent.

Our first attempt at Interiors Excellent was an NQ, but that was almost totally on me. Excellent Interiors has two search areas. In this trial, the first search area was the same room as the previous day’s Interiors Advanced search. The second area was an adjacent space, with no physical dividers between them.

In the first search area, Carlin found his first hide, on the underside of a table, right away. He searched the room a bit, but then he ran over to a pile of lunch boxes, and insisted, pawing and pushing one of the lunch boxes, that this was a hide. So I called it. But what I didn’t pay enough attention to was the fact that these lunch boxes had a tennis ball perched on top of them. This tennis ball was one of the three distractions placed around the search areas, and at this level, hides aren’t placed in the same place as a distraction. I should have seen the tennis ball for what it was, and had him search elsewhere. But with my incorrect call, we NQd our first Interiors Excellent search. This is what we call a “learning experience”.

Fortunately, the judge kindly allowed us to complete the search in the first search area even though we’d NQd. Carlin searched hard for the entire three-minute time limit. Since he didn’t find anything else, I could have concluded that there simply wasn’t a second hide in the first search area, but it turned out that there was. Finally the judge showed me where it was. It was on a door in a corner adjacent to the second search area. At one point, Carlin had gone into that corner, but then quickly left it, trying to go into the second search area. I pulled him out of the second search area, but then inadvertently blocked him from searching that corner again. So that was on me.

The judge kindly let us search the second area, too. Since there had been two hides in the first search area, I knew there was only one hide in the second. And it took Carlin about 10 seconds to find it, in a metal cookie tin under one of the tables.

So, on to the first Handler Discrimination Novice search of the day. If Carlin qualified (Qd) in this search, he’d have the Scent Work Handler Discrimination Novice (SHDN) title. And boy, did he! He nailed the box with my sock in 6:72 seconds. But he also nailed the box, and scattered other boxes everywhere, which got him a fault. His time improved from the previous afternoon. In fact, his time was the fastest of all the dogs, but that fault knocked him down to a 2nd place. But still, it’s a Q and a new title, so I was very happy.

By the time the afternoon trial came around, Carlin and I were both pretty amped. Sunday’s Trial 2 was my last chance to pass an Interiors Excellent search this weekend. I really wanted that pass. So I thought I might watch the Interiors Advanced dogs and see where they had trouble. Maybe I’d learn something. And boy, did I.

None of the Interior Advanced dogs passed. They all failed to find a hide set under the upper rolled edge of a metal folding chair. Partly I think it was airflow–the room had two drafty doors, which were closed during the search, and a big window. But partly it was because handlers got in between their dogs and the chair, and partly it was that handlers didn’t alter their paths around the chairs to help their dogs search from multiple vantage points.

So, I decided I would try to avoid those mistakes in our Excellent search.

Sunday’s Trial 2 Interiors Excellent search used the same two search areas as the Trial 1 search, but the hides were in different places. He found a hide in a cookie tin on top of one of the tables reasonably fast. But then we had to keep searching to see if the first search area had a second hide or not. We searched every table. We searched both doors. We searched all over every chair. And lo and behold, there was a hide tucked into the rolled metal edge of one of the folding chairs.

So that was two hides in the first search area. That meant that there was only one hide in the second search area. It took him about 20 seconds to locate that hide folded into the clothes of a half-size Santa Claus doll seated in a wooden rocking chair. He was a little vague about where exactly in the clothing the hide was, so I had to ask him to “Show me”. So he stuck his nose deep under the butt of the Santa Claus doll and then sat. I called it, and we were right. Carlin’s first Interiors Excellent, completed in 2 minutes, 21:07 seconds. Of the two dogs entered, Carlin was the only one to pass, so we got a 1st place.

The day ended with a bonus Handler Discrimination Novice pass. Of the 4 dogs to pass, Carlin got another second place. Again, he had the best time at 11:40 seconds, but he also once again scattered boxes. So, he got a fault and a 2nd place. I am so glad we don’t have to do a Handler Discrimination search in boxes again. (The next level searches in interior spaces for a cotton ball or swab loaded with the handler’s scent.)

All in all, it was a great weekend. The club ran the trial well, workers and the judge were very efficient in the set up, and the searches themselves were challenging and fun.

2nd in HDN; HDN title; Q and 1st in SIE; Q and 2nd in HDN

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I wrote a post earlier about Carlin’s earning his Scent Work Advanced (SWA) title. Dogs get that title when they have completed Advanced titles in all 4 elements: Containers, Exteriors, Interiors, and Buried. After the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club (ICCKC) scent work trials in early November, I was certain that Carlin had earned the Scent Work Advanced (SWA) title. I thought he had Advanced titles in all four elements, including the Scent Work Interiors Advanced (SIA) title. So I entered him in the Interiors Excellent searches offered at the Upper Snake River Valley Dog Training Club’s (USRVDTC) scent work trials this past weekend. (A dog has to have earned the Advanced title in an element before running an Excellent search in that element.)

But last Thursday, just two days before the USRVDTC trials, I was looking at the AKC website to see if they’d recorded Carlin’s titles from the ICCKC trials yet. They hadn’t (and still haven’t), but I could see that they had Carlin down for only two qualifying Interiors Advanced searches. (A dog needs three qualifying runs (Qs) to get the SIA title.)

I looked at my spreadsheet of Qs again, and saw that I’d marked him down as having three. But before contacting the AKC, I wanted to double check. So I looked at all the results emails sent by the various trial secretaries, and sure enough, he’d earned only two Qs. My spreadsheet was wrong, which meant my entry in the USRVDTC trials was mistaken, which meant I had to hope that the USRVDTC trial secretary would agree to fix it, and move us back down from Excellent to Advanced.

Thankfully, the wonderfully patient secretary said she could indeed fix it.

So on the first trial on Saturday, December 1, Carlin and I ran Interiors Advanced. And failed (NQd)! Heavy sigh. He found one hidden odor on the leg of a metal chair. But then, after he searched and searched, I thought he’d found odor in a tree planter. He kept going back to it. He stretched up on his hind legs as high as he could so he could sniff the leaves and branches. So I called it. But I was wrong. It was on the rung of a chair in that same corner.

But all was not lost in that first trial. We also ran his first Handler Discrimination Novice search, where he has to identify which of the 10 identical cardboard boxes holds my (very dirty, very stinky) cotton sock. We’ve been working on this pretty consistently (and I’ve been wearing those socks everywhere). Carlin found it in 19:56 seconds, for a 1st place. And he did a nice, neat job of it.

In the second trial on Saturday, Carlin Qd in Interiors Advanced. He found one hide on the metal table leg and the second inside a hanging Christmas stocking, both in 31:06 seconds with no faults. That earned us a 1st place. This was his third pass in Interiors Advanced, so with this pass, Carlin really did earn the SIA title, enabling him to move up to the Interiors Excellent search in the next day’s trials. It also, this time for real, earned him the overall Scent Work Advanced title.

His second Handler Discrimination Novice search was not so elegant as his first. He found the box pretty quickly. But he also did a bit of box-scattering. Not exactly the behavior the judge is looking for–a nice quick sit next to the correct box would have been sufficient. So Carlin earned a Q, but he also earned two faults (his very first faults ever in Scent Work) for disrupting the search area. Those faults pushed him to 2nd place, even though he did the search in only 18:38 seconds. (The dog that got first place took longer, but had no faults.)

Even so, it was a great day. We achieved one of my goals, which was to really get the overall Scent Work Advanced title. And we got 2/3 of the Handler Discrimination title. So I was happy that Carlin did so well at something he loves to do.

1st in HDN; 1st in SIA; 2nd in HDN; element title SIA; overall title SWA

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Carlin and I have been practicing for our upcoming Scent Work trials in Idaho Falls. Novice and Advanced level searches have been relatively easy for us (except for Buried—that seems to be the problematic element). But next weekend, we are entered in our first Interiors Excellent searches.

So Carlin and I went to a local training facility, a friend set up an Interiors Excellent practice search for me, and I videoed our search using a GoPro on my head.

Interiors Excellent requires two search areas that total 400-800 square feet. I think the search areas in the video have a too-small total search area. But I didn’t check, so I don’t know for sure.

It also requires that one search area has one hide, and the other has two. The trick with this requirement is that the team doesn’t know which search area has one hide and which has two. The hides can also be set up to 48” tall, and one is inaccessible to the dog. This practice was set up just this way.

This level also requires multiple distractions, which can be toys, lights, sounds, or food. The first search area included a whole basketful of toys, but there were no other distractions purposely set. Of course, the falling plastic cups could be considered a kind of distraction—I was pleased that Carlin wasn’t fazed by them at all.

I learned some things in the first search area:

  • When Carlin purposefully goes back to his first find multiple times, it’s likely that there’s only that one hide in that search area. In this video, you can see that he went back to his find at least 4 times. He searched where I asked him to search, but then kept going back that first find. That’s a hint I need to pay attention to.
  • By looking at the video, I notice that Carlin searched the area to the right of the refrigerator early on, and then later I asked him to search that area. I had completely forgotten he’d already searched it. I need to get better at that—remembering where my dog has been already and not wasting time going back to those places.

The second search area was much more straightforward.

  • I had to laugh when he indicated his first hide in the 2nd area – he’d found that hide already while searching the first area, since it was right around the corner. I haven’t been in an Interiors Excellent search yet, but I’m guessing that in a trial, the areas may have a bit more separation than we set up in this practice search. I guess we’ll just have to see.
  • And I’ll have to remember to get a clear picture in my head of where the search area boundaries are before we start searching.

Carlin is a good teammate with a good nose. It’s a joy watching him work. As you watch the video, I hope you think so, too. And more, if you’re not doing scent work with your dog, I hope you think about doing it. It’s a lot of fun for both members of the team.

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Update 11/29/2018 — I just discovered that Carlin needs one more Interiors Advanced pass to get his Interiors Advanced title and the overall Scent Work Advanced title. I thought we had three passes in Interiors Advanced, but I was wrong. Fortunately, the lovely trial secretary at the upcoming trials in Idaho Falls has agreed to move us down so we can do Interior Advanced searches there. (We had been entered in Excellent, but we don’t qualify for that class yet.)

Now, back to the original post…

Carlin and I had a great time at the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club‘s scent work trials this weekend. We got off to a slow-ish start on Saturday, but totally picked up steam today.

Carlin with ribbons

Yesterday (Saturday), Carlin went to extremes. In trial 1, he placed first in Container Excellent, but then NQ’d in Buried Advanced. Then, in trial 2, he NQ’d in Container Excellent but qualified with a 3rd place in Buried Advanced.

The qualifying runs, he earned without doubt. His indications that he’d found the hides were clean and unambiguous. In Containers Excellent, he sniffed and pawed the three correct containers, totally ignoring the food distraction and the toy distraction. In Buried Advanced, he briefly pawed the correct dirt boxes and sat next to them. He did pick up the tennis ball distraction, but quickly dropped it when I told him to leave it (which pleased and amazed me).

Our NQ-ing the other Containers Excellent and Buried Advanced were mostly on me. In Containers, his indication on the third hide looked half-hearted, so I asked him to keep searching. He randomly picked a container that I had stopped and stood next to instead. Well, the one he initially indicated was correct and the random one was not. Buried Advanced was similar. I didn’t quit moving, but he had a hard time finding the second hide, but finally he picked one. I called it, and we were wrong.

But Sunday, the boy was amped. He whined and wanted to start searching NOW! Usually, I take a bit of time at the start line while I switch his long line from his collar to his harness. I think that gives us a moment to breathe and collect our thoughts. But Carlin wanted to GO NOW! And in all four searches, he found his hides quickly and accurately.

The first search was a Containers Excellent, with the containers set in a 4 x 5 grid. I hate grids. Carlin usually just blasts into the center of all the containers and starts searching from the middle of the grid. That makes it very hard for me to remember where he’s searched and where he hasn’t. But in the first trial, Carlin decided to be methodical, searching up one row and back down the next in a zig zag pattern. He ignored the toy and food distractions and found each hide. I called them correctly, and we were done in just under 27 seconds for a 1st place.

Honestly, I don’t remember the day’s first Buried Advanced search. The ribbon sticker says it happened in 28:15 seconds for a 3rd place.

With the 2nd trial of the day, I was feeling nervous. If he passed the Containers Excellent, he’d get an SCE (Scent Work Containers Excellent) title. If he passed Buried Advanced, he’d finish both the SBA (Scent Work Buried Advanced) and the SWA (Scent Work Advanced) titles. I realize having titles isn’t everything, but still, they show how hard we’ve worked and how talented Carlin is, so I wanted them.

And lo and behold, Carlin qualified in both. This time Containers Excellent was set in a circle, the toy distraction was totally hidden inside the container. In previous trials, judges have set the toy so that exhibitors could see at least part of it, and know to not call a find on that container. But not this judge. So I’d have to just trust my dog to find odor, and not the toy or the food. And he did it! It took us two turns around the circle, but he found and indicated all three hides in 37:28 seconds, completely ignoring the toy and the food, for a 1st place.

In Buried Advanced, he found both hides in just under 34 seconds for a 4th place. I didn’t believe his first indication, and I wanted to be very conservative, so asked him to keep searching. He correctly indicated a second box of dirt pretty quickly. And then he bee-lined it back to the box he first indicated, sat down smartly, and lightly pawed the box. This time I believed him, called it, and we got a “Yes” from the judge. I was a bit rattled, because this was the qualifying run I really wanted so Carlin could get both the SBA and SWA titles. So for a few seconds, I forgot to say “Finish”. Then I remembered and said it, the judge said, “THANK you!” with some emphasis. I think she was worried I wouldn’t say that last crucial word.

I am so happy with Carlin’s performance. We’re both a bit tired, him because he worked hard for his Qs, and me because I chaired these trials. But we had a great set of volunteers to help get this weekend’s trials done and done well.

Now we can rest, until we start training for the next trials in early December. I’ve decided to try Handler Discrimination, so we’ll see how that goes.

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It was an all-dogs-all-the-time weekend. Often our weekends are that way, but this one was packed.

Agility

On Saturday morning, Russ took Carlin to beginning agility class. Apparently, Carlin is doing quite well and really enjoying it. I knew he would, and I’m very happy Russ has found a good instructor for it. Someday I’ll go watch, but I hear that they’re learning stuff in very small pieces.

Going for a walk

While they were gone, Tooey and I went for an hour-long walk while it was still cool. There’s this neighborhood to the south of us that I hadn’t explored yet, so was took the long way through the adjacent park, and then wound our way among the houses and streets. That section was not laid out in a grid, and it was full of dead ends and cul de sacs. I never did exactly get lost (I caught sight of a busy road that I recognized several times), but it wasn’t a straightforward walk. Tooey enjoyed it though, especially that last bit when I let her swim in our neighborhood irrigation canal. She looked for the ducks that often live in the reeds that line the bank, but none were to be found.

Bathe and trim (part one)

When we got home, Tooey got a bath and trim. She was filthy. As in, the-water-turned-brown filthy. As in, why-have-I-been-letting-this-filthy-beast-sleep-on-the-bed filthy. By that time of the morning, the temperature had already reached the high 90s F, so blowing her dry was mostly a formality. Although it does get the loose hairs out of her coat, which means I don’t have to do quite as much brushing and combing. With a light trim, Tooey was looking and smelling beautiful again.

Bathe and trim (part two)

When Russ got home, Carlin got a bath and a clip-down. He was dirty, but not nearly as dirty as Tooey. (Perhaps that’s because of her swim in the irrigation canal?) I haven’t been clipping Carlin down because I had still been harboring this fantasy that I might show him in October, but I finally realized that that’s not going to happen. He doesn’t like judges touching him, he’s worried about being so close to other dogs, and I don’t handle all that very well. And plus, there’s unlikely to be any IWS in the Boise shows in October, so there’d be no point in showing him. (You conformation folks will get the pun, eh?)

So he got clipped. His topknot and ears went down to about ¾”, and the rest of him to 3/8”. He looks very handsome to me. Plus he and I are training for hunting now, and a short coat makes it easier to get out the burrs, seeds, and grass awns.

The First End

After about 3-1/2 hours, both Carlin and I were done grooming. I had Russ’s delicious soup for dinner, did a load of laundry, watched TV for a bit, and went to bed.

It all started again on Sunday morning.

Scent work

My scentwork group all came over to my house early in the morning to practice. We did several Interior Advanced hides, a couple of Exterior Advanced hides, one vehicle search (which is not part of AKC Scent Work, but is done in some other organizations’ searches), a Handler Discrimination Novice search, and an Advanced Container search with extra containers. Carlin did well on all of them except Containers.

In Containers, he could not concentrate. The containers were on his lawn, he ran last after all the other dogs, and all he could think about was sniffing the grass to learn more about all the other dogs. Finding odor was just not of any interest at all. OK, so I guess we go back to basics in Containers on grass. Normally, I practice Containers on concrete, but I’m going to have to change my ways. Somehow.

Spaniel training

After lunch, Carlin and I then trucked off to a friend’s property to practice water blinds and hunt deads. Since by that time it had gotten really hot, we decided to do water work first. My friend is an accomplished retriever person, and she set up some fun land-water-land-water-land blinds for Carlin. They weren’t long blinds, but it did mean that he had to resist stopping to hunt around on the island. He’s been through this scenario before, and I didn’t have to handle him very much. If this had been a retriever hunt test, it would not have met the standard—I let him get way off the straight line from me to the bumper, but my goal was to get him down wind from the bumper so he could find it on his own. Which he did just fine, several times in multiple locations.

Then came the hunt dead. Carlin has never failed a hunt dead in a spaniel test, but he’s gotten himself way off course many times. Enough to push time limit to the very nubbins. Enough to raise my stress level considerably, and enough to lower his score by quite a bit.

In a hunt dead, the handler knows only vaguely where the bird is. The judge will say, for example, that the bird is somewhere in the arc formed by that distant that tree out there to the left and that fence post out to the right, and about 65 yards out from the line. So basically, you try to make some kind of educated guess as to where the bird might be, and then send your dog straight out in a line to a spot downwind from that spot. Of course, you have to guess where downwind is out 65 yards away—sometimes that’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the wind is moving differently out there. Or there may not be any breath of wind at all.

And in yesterday’s practice, Carlin did exactly right. We set it up so that Carlin would out into a cross breeze. I sent him in a line that would put him downwind of where I thought the bird was, he actually took that line, and then hooked a right when he winded the bird. Actually taking the line is what I was looking for. So, good boy!

Riding in the car

While Carlin and I were gone, Russ took Tooey for a ride in the car, which is a good thing in and of itself. He was looking for a DMV where he could maneuver the boat and trailer, so both could be licensed and registered in Idaho. Since this was a reconnaissance mission, there were no worries about leaving Tooey in a hot car. Just a nice air-conditioned ride on a hot sunny day.

the now-registered Spainnear Uisce (the boat), Tooey, and Carlin

The Ending End

By the time we all got home, it was time for dinner, a little TV, another load of laundry (to wash the dog bath towels), and bed.

Like I said, all dogs, all the time.

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